It takes years of practice to be able to walk through woodland and spot potential uses for the timber it contains – and a particularly experienced eye for business to know exactly who is likely to buy it.
That combination of knowledge, experience and careful research allows Staplehurst-based South East Forestry to pay the best possible price for standing timber and guarantee woodland owners a good return as well as professional results.
The secret to the company’s success lies not just in the experience and expertise built up over the years by Jonathan Davies, his wife Cassandra and business partner Dave Holmes, but in the meticulous planning that goes on long before the first tree is felled – and their practical knowledge means the plan will be realistic and achievable.
“We look at the operation from a practical point of view based on years of experience,” explained Jonathan, who met Dave at Plumpton College and worked alongside him for a local timber contractor before they left to set up South East Forestry 11 years ago. “Knowing what is logistically and economically viable is vital if the end result is to be successful, so we make sure that even before we start we know who will be buying many of the trees we fell and what they will be used for.”
That means the trees can be felled with the end user in mind, often cut to particular lengths or dimensions and left stacked ready to be collected from the site. Meanwhile anything not immediately saleable can be brought back to the woodyard and dealt with in slower time, with the poorest wood ending up as wood chip or firewood.
“Nothing is wasted, which means we can pay good prices for standing timber, and where we have an end-user lined up for furniture or construction, we are extending its useful life and keeping the carbon locked up for much longer,” Jonathan commented. “Having our own large, well-equipped yard means that we can store the remainder here until we can find an end user for it, leaving the cleared area tidy.
“We can bring trees with defects back to the yard, store them and then take our time to salvage and sell the quality wood from the trunk as a whole, adding the rest to our firewood stock,” he explained. “Again, it means we can use as much of the timber as possible.”
Not only does the South East Forestry team have good contacts with timber buyers, it has also built up a good relationship with the Forestry Commission and local authorities over many years, too. It means the company can arrange felling licences efficiently and understands and respects constraints such as SSSI regulations and Tree Preservation Orders.
“We will walk the site with the woodland owner, discuss what he wants to achieve, work out a practical plan and obtain the necessary felling licences,” said Jonathan. “We will meanwhile talk to our buyers and make sure we have an end use in mind for every tree we fell.”
Dave added: “Our customer base and our experience means we can make woodland that landowners have previously been told is unworkable, economically viable. We have the right kit, the right market and the right approach.”
It is a highly professional and skilled operation and one which allows the company to maximise the return from standing timber and pay the landowner accordingly. The focus on finding buyers for the quality timber not only increases its value but benefits the environment by extending the carbon life of the timber.
“It’s good for the landowner, good for the woodland and good for the environment,” said Jonathan, who explained that working areas of unmanaged or previously neglected woodland helped biodiversity, encouraged new growth, let in more light and provided new areas in which insects and butterflies could flourish.
South East Forestry has several purpose-built timber harvesting and extracting machines and looks after every contract from start to finish, with no outside labour involved.
“We do all the work ourselves and we are always around if the farmer or landowner has any queries at the time or later,” said Jonathan. “We don’t sub-contract any part of the process, so we are in complete control of the operation from the initial walk through the woodland to the final tidy-up – and we are proud of the way we leave our sites.”
Alongside its investment in knowledge over the years, the business has invested heavily in forestry and timber equipment, including the impressive saw used in the yard by sawyer Andrew Turner to convert unsaleable timber brought back to the yard into a saleable product.
Because South East Forestry knows the end use of timber before it begins cutting, the price is fair and fixed. “We’ve already factored in any unusable or rotten trees and so we know the value and agree the price with the woodland owner in advance,” said Jonathan.
The team also has the equipment, experience and safety procedures in place to fell woods affected by ash dieback. “We are used to working with dangerous trees; anyone who isn’t is running a real risk trying to fell timber that is likely to break or drop a limb at any minute,” said Dave.
South East Forestry works across Kent, Surrey and Sussex and is interested in standing woodlands of a hectare or more containing oak, sweet chestnut, ash, sycamore, silver birch and all other hard and soft woods. The business offers a free site appraisal and is currently looking for farmers who would like to earn money from previously unmanaged or overstood woodland areas.